There has recently been a light shown on the vast amount of sexual harassment or assault in social media by asking people who have been subjected to it to post the words: Me, Too. From looking through my friends’ posts on FB, many women have had this experience. But men have been victims of this too. Both men and women are sometimes victims, and both men and women are sometimes assailants.
This isn’t an easy solution. It will take all people of goodwill to stand up and do what they can when they see others persecuted or in danger. I would just like to offer a few thoughts about things that parents can do things to try to change the pervasiveness of this going forward.
It seems that our task as parents is two-fold. We want to raise children to know how to protect themselves and also to raise children who respect and don’t abuse others! Respect is critical in relationships and abuse is never acceptable: regardless of age or setting. Both things need to be taught early and revisited often. The biblical book of Proverbs 22:6 provides the motivation:
Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.
Start when they are very young. Don’t waste time. Seriously — do you think your kids will pay more attention to you when they are teenagers with raging hormones? Help teach them to develop character. You can start by not making them the center of attention in your family. By not letting them believe the world revolves around them, that the world owes them, that others exist for their pleasure, or that they come first. You can help them develop their character by using the things that come up every day as little learning moments.
My college boyfriend tried to kill me. He threw me against a wall and tried to strangle me, cutting off my breath. Why? Because he was evil? Not at all. Because he liked hurting people? Not even. No, the reason was quite different. It was because his dear Mother had died when he was young, his father would never mention her again, and he was desperately needy. He desperately wanted to be loved, and he got jealous when I danced one dance with someone else (even after asking if it was okay with him and he said yes.) He was big and muscular, and I couldn’t push him away. I willed myself to cry – and my tears stopped him. Thanks be to God!
But I have wondered if this might have had a different outcome if his father had found the courage to overcome his own grief to help his son deal with the death of his mother? How might it have been different if my boyfriend, as a grown man, had done a little self-reflection and sought out help for his issues of abandonment and jealousy?
Being a parent is not for the faint of heart. Every child is different and has different needs and issues. Child rearing is never static. Every time you think you have figured out how to teach your child, they have gone through some developmental shift and what worked before doesn’t work now. So what? Keep trying! When your children ask questions – try to take advantage of the moment and answer them. But also teach them about the things that they don’t think to ask or are too embarrassed to ask!
Teach your sons and daughters what NO means. Learning the meaning of No isn’t a little thing. No doesn’t mean Maybe. When your children keep wheedling to get your no to turn into yes – remember that there are sometimes when a no turned to yes can put them in grave danger or endanger someone else. Teaching them that No means No could be a lifesaver for them or someone else.
It is also critical to teach your children to tell the truth. If you let your children get by telling lies about small matters, who will believe them when they accuse someone who has an excellent reputation? You want to impress early on your children that telling the truth is non-negotiable. It is also the case that you need your children to know that accusing an innocent person that they don’t like is never acceptable either. Make it clear that charging someone of something they didn’t do could break up a family, ruin a career, put someone in prison. People of character tell the truth. Start young to get that message across.
Teach your children to respect others and to not just think of themselves. But also teach your children that pity and naïveté can sometimes cause them harm. Give them tools by talking about different scenarios. Teach them to learn to identify BS before they step in it.
As they grow up and enter different stages of maturity, talk to them about what this will mean to them as young adults and how as adults they can deal with such demands. Talk to them about how they can respond when a promotion is looming, and pressure is being put on them to comply with a superior’s sexual advances. “Let’s celebrate early, have sex with me, and we’ll see about that promotion.” Quid pro Quo.
A stable, loving family life centered on a firm foundation of faith in God makes this easier to teach. If we understand that we are made in the image of God, then we know that we are precious and worthy of respect. But we also know that others are children of God and deserving respect.
Don’t hold your sons and daughters to different standards. Don’t expect your daughters to be pure while encouraging your sons to have fun while they are young. Teach your daughters and sons to be tellers of the truth and people of character who respect the boundaries of others.
Your sons and daughters are a made in the image of God. Teach them to be able to stand tall and be counted.